Moving a Class Online Doesn’t Mean Giving Up Community

Jun 10, 2020

What is the biggest concern faculty express about transitioning their courses online?

Recently, Jocelyn Wright, Senior Learning Experience Designer at Six Red Marbles, met with faculty from various colleges and universities to talk about some of the biggest challenges they encountered when they transitioned their courses online this spring. Whether discussing the classes they had just finished or the summer and fall courses coming up, their top concern was always the same: How do we create a sense of community online?

Diversity of Perspectives 

One of the most common misconceptions about online courses is that they are isolating. This couldn’t be further from the case. With proper planning, design, and facilitation, online courses can be a forum for rich, dynamic conversations.

Students have a variety of digital communication tools at their fingertips that not only allow them to connect with their peers and professors but also provide opportunities to connect with people around the world, from faculty guest lecturers to experts outside the community or students across the globe. This diversity of perspectives greatly enhances the experience of many online students and helps build a strong sense of community and connection.

Three Things You Can Do to Foster Community in Your Online Course

1. Share a communication plan with your students.

Setting clear expectations around communication is a crucial first step in creating a sense of community. Students should know how they will interact with you, as well as how they will interact with one another.

A communication plan allows you to share these expectations with students during the first week of your course and sets the tone for how everyone in the class will communicate. It will help you to create a classroom community where everyone feels respected and heard.

Screen shot of part of the Creating a Communication Plan step-by-step guide in Faculty Success
Interested in learning more about creating a communication plan? We include a downloadable step-by-step guide as part of Faculty Success.

2. Start the class with a welcome discussion.

Providing students with an opportunity to get to know one another (and you) at the beginning of your course goes a long way toward building a sense of community.

Kick off the discussion with a short, casual recorded video in which you talk about yourself and your field of specialization or research background and also share some things you like to do for fun. Keep the conversation lighthearted by asking students to share things such as their favorite books, television shows, restaurants, or theme songs.

3. Assign more group work.

The more opportunities students have to work together, the greater the likelihood they will  form personal connections. Group work—which can range from group projects and presentations to peer review exercises—gives students the opportunity to interact with one another while also engaging with the course content.

To maximize possibilities for connection and community building in group work, be sure to give students plenty of time to work together. Set these working relationships up for success by outlining clear expectations for individual group members so that everyone understands their role and how they should work together to complete the assignment.

Resources to Get You Started

Are you ready to get started? To learn more about creating online community, you can download a guide to creating a communication plan and discover the other essential elements to consider when bringing a course online by signing up for Faculty Success. This free series of self-paced, easy-to-digest professional development modules is designed to help faculty at higher education institutions bring their courses online quickly and efficiently.

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